ASEAN: Cautious welcome for Women and Children's Commission

South-east Asia's long-awaited Women and Children's Commission opened for business on Wednesday.

The Commission, which is a body of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), is tasked with promoting and protecting women and children's rights, building judicial and administrative capacity, and promoting data collection and research. It is expected to focus on human trafficking, child labou, children in armed conflict and gender discrimination.

Legislative amendments are also priority, said Ahmad Taufan Damanik, Indonesia’s commissioner for children’s issues.

Regional campaigners welcomed the move, but raised questions about the Commission's ability to speak out against human rights abuses in the region.

ASEAN has a policy of non-interference in in the internal affairs of Member States which will limit the Commission's protection mandate considerably.

Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Forum-Asia, an umbrella organisation for regional rights groups, said the Commission's terms of reference lean more towards the promotion of rights.

"I think it will be difficult for the Commission to embark on a protection mandate," he said, a criticism also levelled at ASEAN's Human Rights Commission established late last year.

Clarifying the relationship between the two bodies, Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia's Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission, said that the ACWC “will serve as a complementary body to the AICHR and will work on sectoral issues under the guidelines and standards of the AICHR. The AICHR will maintain its overarching role on implementing human rights within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.”

Independence questioned

Campaigners also highlighted the need to review the procedure to elect the Commission's 20 members.

Each State appoints two Commissioners: one for women and one for children. Commissioners serve three years and may be reappointed for a second term.

However, according to Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, the Commission is currently composed of current and former civil servants rather than independent experts which could reduce its effectiveness.

Rules and procedures for the new Commission as well as the general Human Rights Commission need to be further defined for to work effectively, including with non-governmental organisations, say civil society groups.

[Sources:, The Jakarta Post, The Jakarta Globe]

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